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From the Exhaust Tip: The Hottest of All Wheels

by Dylan Leonard

All photos by Dylan Leonard.

While I’ve cherished other significant holiday gifts over the years, few compare to the variety of Hot Wheels cars. Individual cars fit neatly inside my stocking, and larger packs of five, nine, or 20 sat wrapped under the tree. 20 years later, I’m still collecting Mattel’s 1:64 scale cars as a hobby. 

In 1968, the Californian toy giant introduced Hot Wheels as a response to the widely popular Matchbox line produced by British firm Lesney Products.

Unlike their competitor, these models tapped into American car culture with custom touches indicative of hot rods. Matchbox alternatively focused on realism.

As a child, I had the privilege to experience some of these early castings my dad left behind at my grandparents’ house. The cars and their designs from this era are icons in the world of Hot Wheels; names like Twin Mill, Custom Camaro, and Splittin’ Image bring back memories for people that experienced this era.

Of course, I played with my large collection like any child would but respected and admired the wide variety and subtle beauty in each design. Something felt oddly satisfying about giving purpose to each vehicle as I pushed it around the streets of a city woven from carpet fibers. 

As a teenager, Hot Wheels came around once more when I discovered their collector status. After all, a hobby with a $1 entrance fee is easy to maintain. 

Mattel knows this. It’s like a gateway drug into their premium offerings, which have higher price points but additional detail, rubber tires, metal bases, and attractive packaging. While retail shipments are slow and supply exceeds demand, I’m living in a golden age of Hot Wheels where there’s something for everyone to collect, new offerings on a regular basis, and plenty to rediscover from the past 53 years. Who knows what’s next? 

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